Will a slow cooker work for me?
December 7, 2014 3:26 AM   Subscribe

I might buy a slow cooker, but this is not a common appliance in my country, so I've got lots of questions. The most important one at the moment is: will a slow cooker work for me if I'm gone for 10-11 hours before I get home?

We leave home at about 7.30-8.00 in the morning, and return around 6 pm. The idea of having dinner ready when my family comes home seems to good to be true. I know there'll be prep work, but I'll fit that into the schedule somehow.

But a lot of the recipes I've seen so far are for 8 hours or so. I understand I could use a timer, but wouldn't the food be 'overdone' three hours later?

I'm considering buying a 6 qt sized one, and most of the recipes we'd use would involve meat, if that's relevant.
posted by Ms. Next to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
If the slow-cooker recipe is for 8 hours, yes, food will be overdone at 11 hours. Some options:

-search specifically for "11 hour slow cooker recipes"

-set the slow cooker to cook overnight for 8 hours, leave the food in the refrigerator all day, just warm it up when you get home
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 3:40 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Use a timer, set it so it will start to cook 2-3 hrs later and it will be about ready when you get in? Slow cooker timings are aproximate so an extra 30 minutes are unlikely to make much of a difference. An extra two hrs on the other hand can cuase overcooking. So timer.

As to food safety, as long as most of the food you assemble in the slow cooker was refridgerated the assmbled food will take a while to get to room temperature. You could even assemble everything the night before and place the assembled inner pot, appropriately covered, in the fridge and get it out before you leave. The fact that the pot will be cool as well will ensure it all stays cool for longer and gradually come up to room temperature before your timer starts the cooking process.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:41 AM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


Many slow cookers have a timer that turns the heating element down to slow the cooking considerably but keep the food warm (plate ready). It will stay in that state untill powered down completely or unplugged. We feed ourselves extensively with a slow cooker in the winter and overcooking has pretty much never been a problem.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:02 AM on December 7, 2014 [9 favorites]


Yes. It will be fine. And only some foods get overdone. Some just get more awesome. We commonly do beef ribs and they only get right around 12 hours. 100% buy one.
posted by chasles at 5:45 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


We're gone for a similar time frame, and rarely have any problems. The key is to buy a slow cooker with a built in timer. Not so you can start it a few hours after you've left (I wouldn't trust that for food safety, personally). Most slow cookers with a timer automatically switch to the "warm" or "buffet" setting once the time is up, not really cooking your food anymore, just holding it at a warm, ready to eat setting.

If it's something I know is a little on the easier to cook side, I might set it for 6 or 7 hours and then let it stay warm after that, but usually I just do the full 8. A crockpot is a very moist environment and is a gentle heating method in general, so it's hard to overlook food, as long as there's the right amount of liquid present.

My one exception to all of this is that recipes that use boneless chicken parts are useless for all day crockpot recipes. Most of those recipes say 4 hours on high, and it's usually true that recipes call for either 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low, so you can be a bit flexible. For me, I just avoid boneless chicken in the crockpot all together --- even for shorter times, the resulting texture is just unpleasant. Somehow it's dry, mushy, and rubbery all at the same time. This should not scare you off of slow cookers, though. Other meats cook beautifully, even full chickens.
posted by terilou at 6:12 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


For boneless chicken breasts you want to cook a long time (10-12 hours) in the crock pot, put them in frozen. They thaw for the first few hours and THEN cook ... delicious!

I have lots of crock pot recipes that take 10-12 hours, it'll be fine.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:20 AM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


I can't remember every only cooking something for 8 hours when the recipe calls for it - mine always goes for 10 or so because of my work schedule. Everything has always turned out fine for me.
posted by something something at 7:43 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Definitely get one that you can program to switch over to 'warm' or 'hold' after the cooking period. Your situation is perfect for a slow cooker!
posted by checkitnice at 8:28 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Everything I make in the slow cooker is basically impervious to long, long cooking. I've routinely left things in there for 11 hours and it creates no problems. Slow cookers are not for delicate recipes.
posted by escabeche at 8:49 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't use my crockpot that much, so I can't speak to the general question, but I have noticed that food cooks faster if the slow cooker isn't that full. The general guidelines say it should be between half full and three-quarters full to cook properly. I would say half full is on the low side - if you're not going to be filling it two-thirds or three-quarters full regularly, you may want a smaller than 6 quart crockpot.
posted by loop at 9:14 AM on December 7, 2014


will a slow cooker work for me if I'm gone for 10-11 hours before I get home?

Absolutely, yes. The huge majority of slowcooker recipes aren't "take this out at eight hours and if you go longer it will be THE WORST," they are "take this out at eight hours because it won't quite be done at six."

Seriously, there are very few recipes that will be hurt by cooking for a couple hours longer at a nice low temperature.

Also, in terms of food safety, this:

You could even assemble everything the night before and place the assembled inner pot, appropriately covered, in the fridge and get it out before you leave. The fact that the pot will be cool as well will ensure it all stays cool for longer and gradually come up to room temperature before your timer starts the cooking process.

Is much less safe than going directly from fridge to slowcooker; leaving something to come up to room temperature actually means it is in the Danger Zone for longer.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:51 AM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: Thanks for the responses! I gather from the answers here that it'll be fine. The timers that I've read about were indeed not about a delay in the starting point, but a switch to the 'warm' setting at some point.

However, the comnent about the size does give me pause. I haven't seen any smaller ones with a timer. I'll be cooking for 2 adults and 2 kids, and leftovers would be a feature, not a bug. But now that I've read a 6 qrt pot is for 8 people, I'm wondering if I shouldn't be looking for a smaller one.
posted by Ms. Next at 11:26 AM on December 7, 2014


The thing about slow cookers is if you get a small one, within about ten minutes you'll be wanting a bigger one. So get the bigger one. Very useful for doing large (and thus freezable!) batches of whatever--also very useful if you're having a bunch of people over for dinner! Use your slow cooker as a soup tureen, for example.

Another use: bread warmer. If you like nice warm bread/rolls with dinner, just pop 'em into the cooker, lid on, and heat as low as it'll go. Keeps anything nice and warm.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:32 AM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


Just seconding that for most recipes, two or three extra hours doesn't make a huge difference.

The one big exception to that is very lean meats, like boneless skinless chicken breasts. They don't do well with such a long time cooking. Chicken thighs do great, and can pretty easily be subbed in most recipes. A big chuck roast, pork shoulder, dry beans, chili, or veggie soup? Only better with more time.

Older slow cookers just came with a knob that is set to "High | Low | Off". Newer ones can have a temperature and time programed in, then will switch to "warm" until you turn it off.

You'll also love using it for hot drinks if you're hosting any winter parties. Mulled wine and cider in our two crockpots was a huge hit at our party yesterday.
posted by fontophilic at 11:57 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to add another vote for: You probably want the bigger size. And for most of the things you'll make, more time just makes it better.

There is really nothing better than walking in from a long day at work to a mouth-watering scent announcing "Dinner is ready"!
posted by stormyteal at 12:06 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Get the bigger one. The other cool thing about most slowcooker recipes is, because of the liquid content, they freeze wonderfully so you can freeze the extra food and have a quick dinner handy to just heat and heat.
posted by wwax at 12:20 PM on December 7, 2014


Six quarts is a good size for four people and leftovers. In contrast, thirteen quarts is too big. My mom bought a thirteen-quart Rival brand slow cooker and ended up having to donate it to the family beach house where larger groups can make use of it.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 12:50 PM on December 7, 2014


I cook for myself plus leftovers (lots of them) in a six-quart, so I would also recommend sticking to the bigger one.
posted by queens86 at 1:58 PM on December 7, 2014


I have a 6qt - it works just fine for a family of four.

By the way, this recipe for braised short ribs translates very well to slow cooker (get your butcher to cut the ribs in half - they'll fit better in the crock). Do the dredging and browning in the morning, load everything up into the slow cooker, set for 8 hours. It will kick over to warm and be perfect at dinner time. Goes great with risotto.

Chicken tends to not do so well in the very long recipes. Lamb and beef stew meat, pork shoulder, corned beef brisket (which we had tonight) all work very well.
posted by plinth at 4:23 PM on December 7, 2014


I have a 6qt and I usually put half of the cooked meal in the freezer to pull out when we really don't want to cook or don't have enough groceries in the house to make a decent meal. To answer your specific question, yes, your dinner will be just fine and not overdone when you get in. But I use mine (at least once a week) a little differently in that I set it before I go to bed and the food is finished in the morning, and we reheat it for dinner. The reason is that often there is still some prep involved (meat needs to be browned or onions need to be carmelized) that I have neither the time or the patience for in the morning. Its a great investment for working families.
posted by vignettist at 7:23 PM on December 7, 2014


I am very pro- slow cooker. However when you wrote, "I know there'll be prep work, but I'll fit that into the schedule somehow..." you should probably take into account that many yummy carnivore recipes require you to brown the meat before putting it into the slow cooker. In fact, with many slow cooker recipes you're spending just as much active cooking time as you normally would.

I think of a slow cooker as a time-shifting device for the kitchen rather than a work-reduction device.
posted by digitalprimate at 1:10 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, a pro-tip for slow cookers - they are great for mashed potatoes made in advance for large groups. Make them the night before, keep in fridge overnight. The next day, put them on Low an hour or two before you're ready to serve, with a pat or two of butter on top.
posted by shinynewnick at 9:20 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Digital primate: I am very pro- slow cooker. However when you wrote, "I know there'll be prep work, but I'll fit that into the schedule somehow..." you should probably take into account that many yummy carnivore recipes require you to brown the meat before putting it into the slow cooker. In fact, with many slow cooker recipes you're spending just as much active cooking time as you normally would.

Oh yes, I realise that! It's just that later in the evening, or early in the morning, are more convenient for me to spend that time cooking than during the daily evening rush hour, when I hardly ever have enough time to cook - in terms of actual prep time and waiting around for stuff to actually cook.

Anyway, a slow-cooker has been ordered and is on its way... I've seen lots of ideas for recipes in other questions, looking forward to trying them!
posted by Ms. Next at 1:53 PM on December 8, 2014


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